Walking as Natural Exploration

Whether walking alone or in a group.

Posted by Mark Armstrong 28th September 2014

In our blog 'Britain's Rights of Way' I mentioned that if you are keen to start walking more, in 'The Wild Rover' Mike Parker's suggests having "a look at the map of your own back yard and, unless you live in the middle of a big city, there will be dozens of rights of way too within your own 3 mile radius." Plus another idea that comes from his year of travelling the UK is being dropped off 3 days away from home, and then just walking back. "Beg a lift, take the train or bus, and land 2 or 3 days' walk away from home. Turn back, and start walking. Stay in a B&B only ten miles from your front door. See your own back yard in a completely new context. It's the ultimate staycation - and a great way of realising too that for a good walk, you really don't need that much Stuff."

If this DIY local walking with your own map is a bit daunting, whether that's the idea of getting lost, having to map read or finding paths that may be overgrown, then a good place to start is to find a local walking group. And you may be surprised as to how many there are, and it's not just The Ramblers, Britain's walking charity organisation.

If you decide to join a group The Ramblers is a good starting point as their site lists all the affiliated walking groups in the UK. And don't think that you are restricted by age as there are many groups that cater specifically for different age ranges and abilities. You may also find that your local group organises walks on different days and walks of different lengths catering for people with spare time during the week as well as weekends. Many have a social element to them if that interests you, having weekends away or evening meetings. The walks will be led by people that have already walked and mapped out the route.

In most areas of the UK, you are not restricted to the many walking groups affiliated to The Ramblers. If you are now no longer working full time then the University of The Third Age has many walking groups. The University of the Third Age (U3A) movement provides, through its local U3As, life-enhancing opportunities. As it says on its website "retired and semi-retired people come together and learn together, not for qualifications but for its own reward: the sheer joy of discovery!" Here again you will find different groups walking different lengths of walk for different abilities. Sometimes they will combine walking with speaking a language or bird-watching, for example.

Walking as part of a walking group can be fun and social, but it can also be an opportunity to learn from others. You may find that in your group you have people that have a great knowledge of the geology of the landscape or of the flora and fauna of our countryside and so the walks provide an opportunity to take in more of your surroundings through greater understanding of the environment you live in.

I am currently reading Tristan Gooley's The Natural Explorer. In the book the author demonstrates that the most rewarding travel experiences don't depend on the destination or length of journey, but on our levels of awareness and understanding of the landscape; exploration no longer being about hardship or long distances, but about celebrating the sense of connection and discovery. In a way this supports some of my comments on Britain's obsession with long distance paths in a previous blog; a short walk can compare with a long epic journey, when we take time to focus on the things that can enrich each journey. Although I do understand that there will be some people that for personal or religious reasons make a journey that amounts to a form of pilgrimage.

In this age of sensory overload and distractions, taking a walk in the countryside can be a great opportunity to discover the landscape and practice a greater awareness of your surroundings. In this respect walking alone does have its advantages; you can stop and observe and take things in totally at your own pace and there's no distraction or any pressure to interact with the fellow walkers. Walking anywhere can then indeed become exploration.


Our Self guided walking holidays provide you with detailed local 1/25000 walking maps. You will also be provided with our detailed walking notes which as well as being regularly updated are personalised for each customer. The walking notes provide information you won't find in a guidebook with local sights to see, some of which require a detour and it's up to you whether you make the effort to go. They contain all the essential information you'll need to ensure a relaxed and hassle-free holiday.

More about our walking notes

You can explore our full list of Independent Walking Holidays

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